Aldus Manutius: A Series of Firsts by Renaissance Mastermind

Submitted by libbairdca on
Filed under Library News:  Archives & Research Collections

What can we learn about design, innovation and marketing from books printed by Renaissance mastermind Aldus Manutius? Whether you use texting shortcuts (where ru?) or ignore capitals altogether, your formal writing could benefit from the examples of Aldus’ groundbreaking innovations.

Aldus was born Aldo Manuzio (1450-1515) in Bassiano, Italy. His early studies as a humanist scholar revealed to him that Greek and Latin classics were lacking in printed texts and a potential market existed for such texts. With an astute business foresight, Aldus set out to fulfill his mission. His  innovations led to the preservation of Greek and Latin classics and to the democratization of learning in 16th century Europe.

Aldus began his printing career in Venice in 1486.  He established the Aldine Press in 1495.  It was at the Aldine Press that innovations in typography, printing and publishing opened the world of Greek and Roman classics to the masses.  Among the Aldine Press’ many innovations was the invention of the italic typeface, which was first used in a 1501 edition of Virgil.
Aldus also pioneered the octavo size, a precursor to the modern paperback. It could easily be transported in a pocket or a satchel.  The relatively inexpensive editions increased the availability of classical literature to scholars across Europe. Aldus was able to print Greek texts for a period of twenty years by obtaining a copyright from the Venetian government

Yet another milestone was in the invention of a distinctive logo:  a dolphin entwining an anchor which was adopted in 1499.  As a colophon, the device first appeared on books printed in 1502. It was accompanied by two Latin words: festina lente ("make haste slowly").  The proverb emphasized the tedious attention to detail demanded of the printer in the mass production of books.
Aldus also printed dictionaries and grammars to help people interpret the classic texts and standardized punctuation rules. If punctuation mishaps drive you crazy, you might find comfort in knowing that Aldus invented the much feared semicolon. For typography buffs, we now have days set aside to reflect on correct punctuation: National Punctuation Day (September 24) and Semicolon Day (February 6).

The Library has some fine examples printed by the Aldine Press in its collection of Renaissance books.  Noted for their scrupulous accuracy and visual design, the majority of  the books were acquired from Dr. Aldo Caselli in 1966. The books include Pietro Bembo's Gli Asolani (1515); an illustrated edition of Dante col sito, et forma dell'Inferno tratta...del poeta (1515) and Cicero’s Epistolarum…libri XX (1521).

Check out digital versions of Aldus’ publications, available through the Library’s scan on demand website.

By Renu Barrett